SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Union members held a rally on Monday, March 27, at the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs Medical Center to raise awareness of “severe” staffing shortages and pay issues affecting their hospitals nationwide.

A 2022 study by the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute reveals that 96% of VA employees indicated their facility needs more frontline critical staff and 77% of them said facilities had to shut down units or programs due to staffing and budget shortfalls.

These shortages have reportedly increased by 22% in the last years, and VA employees are “significantly underpaid” compared to those working in the private sector.

“We’re trying to make sure the United States government and congress, especially here in Utah, [hear] that we want an 8.7% raise,” said Rob Johnson, a member of the Local 2199 Union from the American Federation of Government Employees. “We’ve never gotten any real adjustments to our pay.”

The local union is demanding the VA to invest in its workforce at the Salt Lake City facility and those around the country. As evidenced by the VHPI study, many VA facilities are struggling to function at their full capacity due to them being chronically underfunded and understaffed.

Johnson said if the VA hospitals in Utah were to close due to staffing issues, patients would have to travel to Denver, Colorado, for treatment. That would reportedly affect VA patients in Nevada as well since residents in Ely and Elko are traveling all the way to Utah to meet with clinicians.

“Everybody is working double shifts, split shifts — whatever they can,” Johnson said. “The ones that are overworked right now have been here the longest.”